Hot on the heels of The Fabulous Baker Boys and Hugh’s Three Hungry Boys comes another cook as dishy as his dishes. He’s already had one career as a pop star. Now he’s being heralded as Ireland’s Jamie Oliver. RT meets 25-year-old Donal Skehan…
Top o’ the morning to you, Donal. What have you been tucking into lately?
I recently travelled to Vietnam and Thailand, which was amazing – they eat everything from grasshoppers to dogs.
I couldn’t handle dog. I stayed with a Vietnamese family and one evening a big bowl of bloody red meat appeared before me. The moment it hit my mouth I knew what it was from the “wet dog in the house” smell. My stomach retched. But I did manage rats, cockerel and fertilised duck eggs served with ginger, coriander and kumquat juice – which were beautiful, full of really interesting flavours.
Your recipes are a little more conventional, thankfully. Am I right in thinking your show, Kitchen Hero, is aimed at beginners?
Definitely. It’s all about encouraging people into the kitchen. I think of my generation as the lost generation of home cooks because we grew up with pre-packaged convenience foods. What I found when the series broadcast in Ireland was that even though at times I was describing something basic – like how to chop an onion – a huge amount of people didn’t possess that simple skill. Many wrote in to say they hadn’t realised cooking could be so easy and effective. All those competitive cookery shows don’t necessarily help matters…
Because we know we can never live up to the marvels on MasterChef?
Absolutely. They can make food intimidating for the everyday person who doesn’t have a bottomless list of ingredients or a home economist behind the scenes. That’s why it really was about simplifying every recipe I created. I asked myself: could I make this if I had no kitchen skills? If the answer was ‘yes’, it was in the book.
How do you feel about being tipped as the next Jamie Oliver?
I take it as a huge compliment. I love what Jamie does. I suppose the slight difference is that I’m not a trained chef; cooking is something I’ve taught myself. As a teenager, I was one of those strange kids who really enjoyed working through cookbooks. My granny was also an inspiration: she had to raise seven children on very little money so she learned to cook good food while remaining economical.
You’ve never had any professional training whatsoever?
No, but I’m quite comfortable with that. People often go off and get trained by a specific mentor and then find they can’t leave that style, whereas I’ve decided what I want to do and the flavours I like. It might not always be perfect but it looks good and tastes great.
You’re also a bit of a musician, I believe?
I was a bit of a musician. I was in a pop band called Industry with two other boys and two girls. We had two Irish number ones and toured with the Pussycat Dolls. When we were on tour I was actually testing the recipes for the book. My bandmates were all savages and so perfect guinea pigs – they’d go mad for my chunky Asian chicken salad. After about a year, I got offered the TV series and officially retired from the music business.
So you must be quite a celebrity back home in Ireland?
Not in the way I’d hoped! When I was in the band I got knickers thrown at me and girls begging for my phone number. The one fan letter I received after the TV series was from a 75-year-old nun.
Did she declare her undying love?
She said she loved the show but didn’t know how to use the internet, so could I please send her the recipe for the Peanut Butter Snicker Squares.
They sound tasty. Tell us more.
They are tasty – if I do say so myself! They’re a kind of grown-up Rice Krispie cake. In a pot, you need to mix peanut butter, golden syrup and caster sugar. Melt it all down and pour it over Special K mixed with flaked coconut and a teaspoon of vanilla sugar. Spread the mixture out evenly in a baking dish and top it with melted dark and white chocolate. Once cool, crack it into squares.
They’re so bad for you but so bloody good – just ask my number one fan!
Kitchen Hero is on Good Food from Monday 23 April, weeknights at 6pm.